Traveller Miniature Spacecraft Painting Tips

by Pierre-Louis Constantin

(rev.1.1, last updated September 2, 1996)

This is a revised version of the text I originally posted on David J. Golden's page. It has been updated using ideas that came up during the latest rehash of the How-To-Paint-Ships thread and some new things I've tried. New info include color schemes, more camouflage ideas and it covers most aspects of Traveller ship colorization principles and questions. Sorry, no pictures of my or anybody else's ships are available yet.

About this guide

Despite the tone of this article, I am NOT a painting expert. I lack the experience, the visual acuity and the stable hands to paint anything worth looking at. However there was no FAQ or any real centralized data on ship colors and techniques and I felt something like that could be a real help to others in the same plight. :) At least this way I can concentrate on getting the paint on the right part of the ship and not on questions of what is realistic/interesting to try out. I hope this short guide is helpful to you.

I use Citadel Colour paint, mostly because I get it cheap. :) Also it doesn't form bubbles like the Armory's. I have yet to find custom iron-on decals but I'm still looking.

Please note that this is NOT a HOW-TO guide. I assume that you already know what washes and drybrushing is. Other people can explain it better (and know more than me) about those topics. Also this information is in NO WAY official, canon, or obligatory. It is all just my humble opinion and should be seen as an help to creativity.

Information that pertains to ship colors

Nearly all ships have a liquid-crystal hull that can easily change appearance. Starship Operator's Manual So "paint jobs" can be quickly changed. I suggest that you buy a pair of the same miniature and paint them differently to represent different operating modes, so you can switch them during a battle for example.

Painting details:

In my humble opinion you should highlight some of them (use a contrasting color) and simply signal some others (use a lighter/darker color). If you highlight all of the details the ship will look too 'busy'. Select the details you want highlighted carefully, depending for example on the type of ship. You might want to highlight weapons and subcrafts on a military ship, or hatches and holds on a cargo ship. Try not to use colors that clash too much for details. access hatches picked out in distinctive colors, and various labels and warnings. Try them by placing *very* fine broken lines in appropriate areas (the idea is that the "pieces" of the line are individual words). Some details look well painted in metal/silver/iron/grey colors because they wouldn't be painted anyways, such as exhausts and instruments. One sort of detail which I'm not too sure about is how to paint viewports. I've used sky blue myself but unless it's a very small viewport it's not very satisfying. Others seem to use yellow-green, green or medium brown. Any suggestions? Finally if the ship has radiators, you might want to paint them black. Or ashen black with signs of overheating (red to blue-white). :)

Ageing ships:

To get the ship to look more aged/badly maintained here is the trick I use. First apply an inequal iron wash (or black; tan or grey for sand or dust dirt) to get it to look aged. You might want the wash to be inequal so that it looks like some parts are dirtied-up, like the ship exhaust, underside of the ship, bottom of doors and other leaky parts.

Meteorites: A technique I haven't mastered yet; Get your dry brush, and using a piece of cardboard flick specks of iron or grey at the ship - don't drybrush the ship directly for this. A few big enough flecks of paint should look like tiny meteorite impacts. It's hard to get it to look nice though so practice on something else first. Finally a touch of light gray around the dirty/impact areas can help to highlight them and the gray should look like soot. If you have a better way of doing this, please tell me. Something I've been thinking of is to leave a small area unpainted and then drop a bit of diluted impact paint on it - hopefully it will look like the paint flaked away from the impact. Don't overdo ageing. Most ships are commercial ventures. Sure they will be hastily patched up, but would you do business with something that looks like a garbage truck?

Camouflage

There are two parts to succesful camouflage: The color scheme and the pattern. You should go out and study natural patterns. Consider those 2 parts as equally important. Both color and pattern should be selected according to the environment depicted. Patterns can vary in shape and in density (how busy they look). I think it's easier to paint small triangles for very busy patterns than most other things. Camouflage schemes are much more varied than what we see on earth.

Here's a list of interesting ones:

Color Schemes

I've found that it's difficult to turn a metallic miniature into a painted starship miniature that somehow still looks mechanical and powerful. The simple 'metallic' look gets somewhat boring after a while, and there is really no reason to stick with it. Here's a list of color schemes I have used in the past and found rather pleasing:

Suggestions By ship function: I usually give the military ship a black base coat and the commercial ships a white coat. I just feel it makes the military ships more menacing, but you might like it the other way around.

Fighters:

Probably not equipped with cameleon hulls, fighters will have a fixed paint job, probably monochrome (beige, kaki, grey or simply metallic) with an allegiance logo. Personalized fighters might have an extra logo or design on the prow.

Scout:

Cost-efficient and rugged, the usual schemes would be metallic, monochrome or camo. Monochrome lets you add tonnes of pockmarks from meteorite impacts, especially since the scout has large flat surfaces. I suggest going for a not too light primary color depending on the branch (green for exploration, blue for survey). Then age the ship. Or use any camo scheme and go wild. Don't age a camo scheme unless it's really uncluttered. Service logos should be very big and visible above and below the ship.

Courriers:

Bright red and yellow, even fluorescent if you can, much like fire trucks. After all, couriers are not to be delayed and you don't want to mess with one. Do not age the ship. A nice design is pale yellow (fluorescent) with a bright green stripe on the edges of the ship. It would look like an ambulance. Service logos should be very big and visible above and below the ship.

Free Trader:

Anything goes here, but the ship is likely to follow the guidelines for the race of the owner, region of the imperium, and type of trade. I like to use variants of megacorp logos on the nose of the ship.

I used a main body color of forest green with a large stripe of gold circling it. A silver clawed-in triangle is painted on both cheeks, and the nose is white with a red twirl. I used this scheme for a small subsidiary of Oberlindes Lines called Rankin Tradings. They are relatively common tones and the ship would blend pretty well in any shipyard, which is a good thing when you're dealing in illegal cargoes. There are a few more painting schemes in DGP's Starship Operators' Manual. Despite those suggestions I think it's easy to overdo it on the free trader. Don't use too many colors! Rob Prior suggestion of a gloss white with red equatorial band sounds perfect to me.

Far Trader:

Usually beloging to corporations, these would bear compagny logos and colors. Clearly marked hatches and safety features.

The Subsidized Trader:

Neutral tones. I found that a beige body was excellent for this ship. I actually used bronzed flesh for the main body and bestial brown for details. It gives a very professional and "commercial" look. The wings' vertical rudders can be adorned with big logos. Armed traders, depending on their clientele, should either accentuate they weaponry or try to hide it, but all travellers like to know they're safe. Sandcasters should be proudly displayed. The shuttle is painted the same basic color as the main ship but with a big dark red V stripe to give the impression of speed to potential customers when they board it.

Yacht:

A symbol of power and wealth, the yatch has either the look of "class" or of incredible gaudyness. Some quite valid schemes are pure white with a large blason, pure gold and silver, gloss green with french blue stripes, metallic blue with gold stripes.

Patrol Cruisers:

Patrol cruisers have two functions: As a deterrent against criminal activities and as search and rescue ships. I use a very simple scheme; either pure iron/steel or pure black. I paint some edges red or yellow with weapons and bays highlighted. Rescue missions will simply use light green edges instead. It does give the ship an evil look however. Exotic designs are the dragonfly or lizard look, where the spheres fore of the ship look like eyes and the rest is painted scaly greens.

Mercenary Cruiser:

One word: Overaging. :)

Lab Ship:

Lab ships belong either to a government or a megacorp. A small logo should be displayed, as well as several warning panels near hatches and instrument panels. One design I would like to try is the Eye - paint it like a huge eye (those who have seen the cartoon Ulysses 31 know what I'm talking about. :) Another suggestion is

Safari Ship:

Another good chance to use camouflage.

Close escort:

Paint it like a real war ship. I've painted one iron and gold with lots of red and yellow parts - especially the turrets. Unfortunately it looks a lot like a travelling McDonald's. My second attempt was much better. I used a 'pelt' type paint job for a Solomani escort; I call it the Orca. It is sky blue with patches of black and white. The turrets are striped black and yellow. It looks a lot like a killer whale giving 3 tigers a ride. :)

System Defense Boat:

Another war boat, it should have a simple paint scheme but with local allegiance logos proudly displayed. Rob Prior suggests flat battle gray with light ghost gray tiger stripes, black windows & nozzles.

Corsair:

Pirate ships turn jet black as they come within visual range. Solomani pirates display a great white skull and crossbones. Vilani pirates use their traditional flaming eye. By allegiance:

Solomani:

Traditionally decorate the nose of a craft. I found that actual or mythological beasts from earth can get a good theme going; Take for example marine animals: "The Orca", The Swordfish, the Hammerhead all easily conjure up interesting designs for war ships.

Zhodani:

They color the tail sections. Most zhodani ship, while not actually looking bland, will be rather generic and subdued.

Vilani:

They like to stylize the underside of the ship. Monochrome designs with long regular lines seem to be the norm.

Aslan ships:

Orange and black. What did you expect? :) With a few ghosts and ghouls and vampires painted in for Hallowe'en. :) Aslans starships are made to be seen. Don't forget to cover them with those funky aslan runes.

Well, that's about it for now. Those are only my suggestions - I'd like to get more official guidelines. There are very few color pictures of Traveller spaceships. I've found them only on the MegaTraveller game box cover, some of the GDW catalogs and promotional literature, but that's about it. The painting suggestions I've given above seem to follow those in the pictures I've seen.


Traveller is a registered trademark of Far Future Enterprises. Portions of this material are Copyright ©1977-1996 Far Future Enterprises. This article based on a message by Pierre-Louis Constantin, converted to HTML by David J. Golden.

Address comments or submissions to Pierre-Louis Constantin.